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UNDERWEAR ADS CAUGHT IN BIND OVER SEX APPEAL;TV NETS LOOK TO PRIME-TIME ZONING FOR SPOTS LIKE THOSE FROM

By Published on .

Secret, CalvinNot since 1987, when TV networks lifted commercial content restrictions on the use of live models in underwear ads, has there been so much talk about the advertising of underthings.

And never has underwear advertising been quite as provocative as now, prompting some agency media buyers to predict increased zoning for racier commercials in later time periods and, perhaps, higher demand and prices for post p.m. ET prime-time commercial slots.

`SEX IS EVERYWHERE'

"What's opening the floodgates is everything you see on the Internet, on cable TV, in print, in program content," said advertising consultant and psychologist Dr. Carol Moog. Sex "is everywhere. Advertisers are going to see what they can get away with on network TV."

Open the July issue of Interview and there's a Guess? underwear ad with model Raina-back arched and pinkie finger tucked below her panty line-reclining on a couch. The cleavage of Martina, another Guess? girl, will soon be plastered, in-your-face fashion, on buses.

Well known for its suggestive ads, Guess? doesn't plan to bring its in-house crafted underwear messages to TV, but others are.

For some months, model Christy Turlington has been posturing in various modes of underdress for Calvin Klein in a 30-second spot running on CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman," and other after-hours fare. That commercial, created in-house, has drawn little attention, certainly nowhere near the fuss created by Calvin Klein jeans advertising featuring young models last year that was likened to kiddie porn and drew a Justice Department probe. The investigation was ultimately dropped.

MAIDENFORM GETS RACIER

Even Maidenform, a more conservative practitioner of underwear advertising, is expected to spice things up a bit when it introduces its first significant campaign in several years this fall, via Kirshenbaum & Bond, New York.

In August, Victoria's Secret-until now a practitioner of more tepid titillation-will tune into the times with a network TV commercial from Tarlow Advertising, New York. The spot features supermodel Claudia Schiffer adjusting her cotton undergarments and undulating to music in a manner suggestive of Demi Moore in "Striptease," though considerably tamer.

How different the times are from 1987, when Playtex Products became the first marketer to show a live model wearing a bra and incurred the wrath of self-appointed guardians of family values such as the American Family Association's Rev. Donald Wildmon to the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schafley.

In the interim has come the Wonderbra and even brassier bras meant to be worn as clothing instead of merely under it. As fashion started pushing the envelope in terms of sexiness, advertising has loosened up, too.

IN A LATHER

Shampoo commercials were never known for their daring until 1995, when a spot from Wells Rich Greene BDDP showed a nearly orgasmic woman washing her hair with Clairol's Herbal Essence. TV program content itself has elevated the art of raciness, such as the syndicated "Baywatch," ABC's "Murder One" and "NYPD Blue" and the daytime soaps.

"Advertisers are pounding down the barriers," said Page Thompson, exec VP-U.S. media director at DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, who notes that marketers are merely taking a clue from the environment surrounding their ads.

"The line is being drawn at 9 p.m. As more adult programs appear after that hour ..... the networks will put sexier, more explicit advertising after 9 p.m., too," he said.

But if networks start "zoning times," said another media expert, "you will see a reflection in cost as supply and demand factors into the equation because there will not be more commercial minutes in an hour."

TAMING VICTORIA'S SECRET

CBS, NBC and ABC all restricted the upcoming Victoria's Secret commercial with Ms. Schiffer to after 9 p.m., and requested the spot be made tamer.

Executives familiar with the marketers' plans, at least one of whom called the Victoria's Secret-Schiffer commotion "a lot of PR brouhaha," expect the spot to run on such shows as NBC's "ER" and "Seinfeld," though no one has yet confirmed any buys.

Jack Myers, chairman of TPP/Myers Communications, warns that gratuitous ad content and zoning racier ads in certain times "pose a danger to the ad industry, and may push the needle in the other direction such as program ratings."

Contributing: Carol Krol.

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